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August 09, 2011 8:00 AM Cantor pushes intransigence, hopes to prove S&P right

By Steve Benen

Midday yesterday, commenting on the downgrade decision, President Obama told the public that fiscal “reforms” don’t require “any radical steps.” What’s needed, he said, is “common sense and compromise.” The problem, Obama added, is “a lack of political will in Washington. It’s the insistence on drawing lines in the sand, a refusal to put what’s best for the country ahead of self-interest or party or ideology. And that’s what we need to change.”

Around the same time the president was making these remarks, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was sharing a message of his own with his fellow GOP caucus members. As one might imagine, Cantor had a very different objective in mind.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told Republican lawmakers to expect, and resist, increased pressure to raise taxes following the downgrade of the U.S. credit rating by Standard and Poor’s.

“Over the next several months, there will be tremendous pressure on Congress to prove that S&P’s analysis of the inability of the political parties to bridge our differences is wrong,” Cantor wrote in a memo Monday to House Republicans. “In short, there will be pressure to compromise on tax increases. We will be told that there is no other way forward. I respectfully disagree.”

In the same statement, Cantor added that this position — no tax increases on anyone at any time by any amount — is “what we must demand from the Joint Committee as it begins its work.”

Soon after, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) issued a statement endorsing this line, declaring that “raising taxes is simply the wrong approach.”

The rhetoric isn’t surprising, but the context is critically important. Standard & Poor’s downgraded American debt just a few days ago and raised some specific concerns to justify the decision. Namely, the S&P analysis pointed to, among other things, the partisan gridlock in Congress caused by Republicans, and the fact that “the majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues.”

This, in turn, has led the top two Republicans in the House to urge their allies to prove S&P right. GOP officials caused this mess, and as of yesterday, they’re apparently eager to make it worse. This isn’t something they’re especially embarrassed about — hell, they’re proud of it.

The contrast between the statements should be pretty illustrative to anyone paying attention. On Monday afternoon, President Obama said what matters is doing the right thing for the country. The same afternoon, Cantor said what really matters is making sure no one ever has to pay an additional penny in taxes, regardless of the consequences to the country.

Given this, try to make the case that Eric Cantor is principally concerned with the nation’s best interests, above all else. Go ahead, try. Let’s hear the case that the oft-confused House Majority Leader is putting country over ideology.

I’m all ears.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • Live Free or Die on August 09, 2011 8:05 AM:

    Steve this is the wrong conversation. Right now we need growth-jobs. Obama should call Congress immediately from vacation and work on a $2T infrastructure bill. Then he needs to hit the road and sell it. The GOP are who they are. Obama needs to change the conversation. Even if he fails, at least people will see is fighting for their jobs. Americans do not care about the deficit or debt. They care about jobs.

  • Live Free or Die on August 09, 2011 8:08 AM:

    Also, too this is the GOP plan. Have Obama only talking about the deficit, and NOT jobs. Romney is not talking about the deficit; he is talking about jobs.

  • c u n d gulag on August 09, 2011 8:11 AM:

    I was going to go in a different direction with my comment, but having seen it, I agree completely with 'Live Free or Die's' comment.

    Nothing may, or probably ever will come of it - but Obama does need to make a push for another stimulus. A massive one.

    Doing anything else is just hoping for change.

    And that's not the "Hope" and "Change" I envisioned .

    I never thought Obama was any great Liberal.

    But I thought he would be more of a fighter.

    He needs to get in their faces - NOW!!!

    People respect fighters and will reelect him if he does.

    If he doesn't fight, well....

  • Live Free or Die on August 09, 2011 8:19 AM:

    My apologies for hijacking your thread, Steve. I just think that even if Obama gets through the "Grand Bargain", but does nothing else, he will lose the election. The problem with the Democrats is that they do not understand a fundamental fact about Republicans: They do not care about their popularity ratings. If they hit 0%, they would not care. Because most of their districts are gerrymandered. So the primary IS the election.

  • Ronald on August 09, 2011 8:20 AM:

    Does anyone think these guys care about you and your best interests? Is it clear yet? Republicans hate you and I and want to destroy Democracy. Looking strictly at their actions, it's hard not to be convinced they want to destroy the entire Country as well. They are doing their damnedest. WTF?

  • Danp on August 09, 2011 8:24 AM:

    Obama should call Congress immediately from vacation and work on a $2T infrastructure bill.

    That ship is sailed. You can't ask for a $2T spending bill a week after agreeing to several trillion in cuts. Furthermore, as long as R's control the House, it would be as disingenuous as the constitutional ammendment that has no chance of passing the Senate.

    At this point there is not much left to do but demand small relatively cost-free concessions, and campaign vigorously for a supermajority in both houses. A couple more media scandals like the Murdoch one would go a long way, too.

  • Live Free or Die on August 09, 2011 8:27 AM:

    My prediction is if Romney wins, he will immediately demand an infrastructure "investment". All of a sudden the GOP will have no problem with "spending". The economy will improve. The GOP will get reelected. The Democrats will be scratching there heads wondering why they did not do this.

  • walt on August 09, 2011 8:28 AM:

    Having validated the right's framing of deficits as the one existential threat of our time, Obama can't easily pivot to jobs at this late hour. Obviously, it's too late as policy but it may be even too late as campaign rhetoric. Obama needed to go on the offensive about jobs from the beginning of his presidency and keep hammering that theme. He needed to push legislation and dare to have the GOP vote against it. He needed to be as pro-active on this front as FDR once was because he knew his presidency depended on it, not to mention the American economy.

    It's too late. Obama squandered his presidency with a tone-deafness about the economy that historians will spend decades writing about. Yeah, independents wanted a "bipartisan centrist" as president. At least that's what they told pollsters. But underneath that vacuous bullshit they really wanted a strong daddy who would fight to protect them. Obama wouldn't or couldn't deliver on that fundamental need. He was above the fray to the point of irrelevance.

    We spend a lot of time here blaming Republicans for being what they are - lying obstructionists. But they worked Obama like a virgin in a brothel. Now it's too late except to wonder how long this misery will last.

  • Live Free or Die on August 09, 2011 8:32 AM:

    "That ship is sailed. You can't ask for a $2T spending bill a week after agreeing to several trillion in cuts. Furthermore, as long as R's control the House, it would be as disingenuous as the constitutional ammendment that has no chance of passing the Senate."

    Then Obama is done and will not be reelected. If Obama goes to a Republican districts where the roads and bridges are crappy, and say we can create jobs by fixing every road and ridge in this district, therefore I am asking for leader Cantor's vote, then Cantor will have to explain why this is a bad idea to his constituency. Even if he fails, Americans will see a fighter and he will be reelected.

  • Anonymous on August 09, 2011 8:33 AM:

    This whole fiasco has been the successful dismantling of a presidency. They stated their mission and only concern was to make Barack Obama a one term president. The republicans and the tea party Taliban have cratered the world economy ensuring a difficult path to Obama's reelection. Well done lads , mission accomplished and all that.
    You must be very proud of yourselves. I especially like the part where the republican candidates have the temerity to stand in front of the camera and tell me with a straight face that the S&P downgrade is Obama's fault. This country has lost its collective mind.

  • Live Free or Die on August 09, 2011 8:37 AM:

    "Having validated the right's framing of deficits as the one existential threat of our time, Obama can't easily pivot to jobs at this late hour"

    I disagree. He can change the subject anytime he wants. He just should say that he can do both: solve the long term problem and the jobs crisis. To send a strong signal, he should fire his economic staff (geitner) and bring in the old people that left (goolsbee, and Roehmer)

  • Celui on August 09, 2011 8:39 AM:

    It's almost as if there's a place now for the sincere and honest 'staged failure' method of responsible opposition. Works like this: Democrats continue to propose public/stimulus spending in the face of intractible Republican opposition. Obama continues to champion publicly and frequently what's best for the country's unemployed and small employers, contrasting these needs for improvement with the obvious wealth-hoarding of big business (non-) job creators. Democrats begin wholeheartedly to push back against the lies machines. All this in the public's view and repeatedly, with the stated aims of improving the lot of the unemployed, of stabilizing the domestic and international economies before tragedy hits harder, and all this done 'most sincerely.' Either these well-intentioned steps gain traction, or the damnable opposition is repeated revealed for the partisan-at-all-costs hacks they are. It's time to 'create' the open framework for the future, in the face of the failure-minded Republicans. Captcha says: 'herfans (lambda) L (chi)' Now, how am I supposed to type that???

  • DAY on August 09, 2011 8:39 AM:

    What Live Free or Die said.

    From an historical perspective, we (the nation and the individual) have been living beyond our means, and on borrowed money, for decades.

    Chickens come home to roost, you get what you pay for, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Trite, but true.
    ---------------------------------------------------------------
    While I agree with gulag, I do not have president's ear. So I will concentrate on my ability to live within my means, prepare for the future, and keep my powder dry. I will also vote in 2012, but I will NOT let the outcome of the election affect my own small piece of the planet.

  • sapient on August 09, 2011 8:40 AM:

    I totally agree with Live Free or Die. It's not too late, but the fight has to start now and people have to be called out by name. It would also be helpful if the Justice Department would start working for the people as well.

    I admire Obama, and I see what he's been trying to do. But he can't do the "moderate" thing now that the Republicans own the House - the situation is too dire. Time to fight.

  • walt on August 09, 2011 8:42 AM:

    Live Free or Die's comment that a President Romney would spend on "investment" is mostly correct. I would add this, however. Romney has little leeway with the party's zealots. He will necessarily have to cater to them to the point his options are limited. A President Perry, however, will not be so constrained. Identifying himself as one of them means he has a wide-open field in terms of policy. He'll give his jobs program a catchy name like Redeeming the Promise and the teabrains will swoon.

  • delNorte on August 09, 2011 8:44 AM:

    It's too late. Obama squandered his presidency with a tone-deafness about the economy that historians will spend decades writing about.

    I have to diagree. The first two years brought many legislative accomplishments, including HCR. With the current congress, and the Tea Partiers in the House, it's all about playing defense, and trying to defer any real damage to the future, even if that means giving the Republicans token "victories" (which are really tactical retreats).

    There will not be one single piece of positive legislation (whether it be an effective jobs bill or stimulus) that will come out of this congress, so the best that could come is the illumination of what Republicans are really about. Hopefully the American people will wake up and see this as it becomes more evident and explicit.

  • Brenna on August 09, 2011 8:48 AM:

    Anonymous said: "This whole fiasco has been the successful dismantling of a presidency. They stated their mission and only concern was to make Barack Obama a one term president."

    I agree totally. However, I don't think it's just me feeling this, but I think Obama has given up. Maybe he's depressed, maybe he doesn't care. But something is definitely wrong with him.

    For instance, him agreeing with Panetta on the pentagon cuts, his insistence on cutting deficits in dire times. I'm not too confident the Bush tax cuts will expire.

    Dana Milbank's column resonated with me today: "The Most Powerful Man on Earth?" He's done some really good things so far and I'm grateful. But he has to keep going and fighting for the country. If he can't do that, I wish he'd step aside and let someone else come forward.

    I'm disillusioned with this man.

  • delNorte on August 09, 2011 8:55 AM:

    PS: As others have said above, though playing defense legislatively, the President should still go on the offense by proposing jobs programs, etc, that may not have a chance in the House, but that will, again, shine a light on what Republican priorities really are.

    In so doing he'd be campaigning from the bully pulpit, just as Republicans are campaigning in their little press conferences and memos.

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on August 09, 2011 8:57 AM:

    Brenna - That was me (hate that new anonymous capability)The battle that Obama AND the Democrats have lost is the war on words . They have a full time propaganda channel , us some blogs, comedy central and a few MSNBC shows.
    Every cut should have been labeled Job Killing
    Job Killing education cuts . Job Killing infrastructure cuts .....
    Instead we got Job Killing Tax cuts instead of Luxury Income supplement for millionaires.
    You have to out Luntz them and they just don't get it.

  • Kathryn on August 09, 2011 8:58 AM:

    It's absolutely terrifying to understand how far the traitors are willing to go to destroy us. Live Free or Die is right and until and unless MSM acknowledges over and over again their real agenda, we are doomed, which means we are doomed. Their are some minor stirrings in that direction but it has to reach a much higher level and seep into local news and newspapers. Danp makes a good point about a 2T spending bill. Should Obama lobby for unemployment, continued payroll tax break and returning heroes tax deal coupled with a do nothing congress all over the country, emphasis on returning heroes tax? What a snake pit the House of Representatives is. That lunatic Bachmann is telling her followers that we should not have raised the debt ceiling and that's why the markets tanked, good grief, are there people so nuts that they believe her, probably. Every news jerk with a microphone needs to ask every traitor they interview why they won't budge on taxes when American by a healthy margin support taxing the super rich more and keep asking until they storm off, no other question until a satisfactory answer.

  • AndThenThere'sThat on August 09, 2011 9:07 AM:

    Such dour banter this morning.

    So thanks, Live Free or Die, for this great laugh.

    If Obama goes to a Republican districts where the roads and bridges are crappy, and say we can create jobs by fixing every road and ridge in this district, therefore I am asking for leader Cantor's vote, then Cantor will have to explain why this is a bad idea to his constituency.

    If you think that is a good idea, never get into politics personally.

    Live Free or Die's comment that a President Romney would spend on "investment" is mostly correct.- Walt

    If by "investment" you mean "industrial military complex", then yes, a future President Romney or Perry will find their love of big government socialist programs. Nothing else has the power to pull on the heartstrings of tea partiers.

  • TCinLA on August 09, 2011 10:05 AM:

    Want to know what a KAPO (a Jew who cooperated with the Nazis to promote the Holocaust on his own people) looked like in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942? Just like Eric Cantor.

  • kevo on August 09, 2011 10:29 AM:

    As our economic woes sustain high unemployment, any conversation concerning the rhetoric coming from the mouth of Eric Cantor should incorporate the context of just how much personal profit he is producing as he opportunistically uses his political office to create uncertainty in the markets.

    Mr. Cantor has shown himself to be no friend of the common good, no defender of a social compact that provides for shared community needs, and no leader when it comes to sound public policy!

    Nor does he realize his views are damaging the international economic infrastructure holding Western alliances together. I wonder, at this moment, what Israelis think of the beloved Eric Cantor?

    Eric Cantor is doing his job the way his mother would be ashamed of! -Kevo

  • barkleyg on August 09, 2011 10:31 AM:

    "Given this, try to make the case that Eric Cantor is principally concerned with the nation’s best interests, above all else. Go ahead, try. Let’s hear the case that the oft-confused House Majority Leader is putting country over ideology."

    Until REPUGS learn to love their country more than they HATE Obama, we are doomed!

  • tanstaafl on August 09, 2011 10:41 AM:

    TCinLA, I dislike Eric Cantor as much as you do, but your Holocaust reference is inappropriate and inapplicable.

    First, any comparison of the Holocaust to something other than actual or attempted genocide is inappropriate.

    Second, the suggestion that Eric Cantor is betraying "his own people" is ridiculous unless "his own people" refers to the entire United States, in which case, who is he betraying them to? What he is doing is pursuing the short-term interests of "his own people" at the expense of the country as a whole.

  • max on August 09, 2011 12:52 PM:

    “Over the next several months, there will be tremendous pressure on Congress to prove that S&P’s analysis of the inability of the political parties to bridge our differences is wrong,” Cantor wrote in a memo Monday to House Republicans. “In short, there will be pressure to compromise on tax increases. We will be told that there is no other way forward. I respectfully disagree.”

    The market heard Cantor and S&P and apparently ignored both of them, noting correctly, it's about Europe, stupid. Money still talks, and political weasels and rating agency incompetents still walk.

  • A. Think on August 09, 2011 1:48 PM:

    Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.

    Is it unconstitutional to have less than AAA ?

    Did S&P violated the 14th Amendment by questioning the federal debt ?

  • Continental Op on August 09, 2011 7:00 PM:

    I suspect Cantor believes he has a shot at the Republican Vice-Presidential nomination.

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